There’s a five-acre park in the middle of the Department of Defense’s Pentagon headquarters, and a small one-story structure sits in the bullseye center of the lawn. Some say that during the Cold War, Soviet satellite reconnaissance closely watched the mysterious spot, which attracted large groups of military brass at precisely the same time every day.
The structure in question, far from a high-importance bunker entrance, was actually just a hot dog stand, macabrely nicknamed “Cafe Ground Zero.” And a ridiculous myth perpetuated by the Pentagon suggests this little hot dog stand was targeted by two Soviet ICBMs.
“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” DOD Communications Officer Brett Eaton told Stars and Stripes in 2010. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand. They thought the officers were going to get their top-secret briefings in a protected area, but really they were just going to get lunch.”
While this delicious story is repeated daily by official Pentagon tour guides, it’s hardly rooted in truth. The Pentagon itself was a priority Soviet strike target, but the notion that they confused a hot dog stand with a “secret meeting place” is near impossible. Communist spies roamed and reconnoitered the building with ease throughout the 1950s. “Anyone, from a four-star general to a 15-year-old boy can get into the Pentagon,” noted Polish military attache Pawal Monat. Monat and his colleagues would collect useful tidbits of knowledge about weapon systems and troop deployments by simply listening in on unguarded conversations in the Pentagon hallways. Seeing as they had the run of the place, it is almost inconceivable that they passed on the opportunity to check out this supposedly secret hot dog stand
The original hot dog stand was torn down in 2006 and replaced with a more modern food facility that offers year-round access to Pentagon employees. The space is currently occupied by an Au Bon Pain fast-casual restaurant. The wooden owl decoy that sat atop the old hot dog stand has been preserved on the newer structure, thanks to the Pentagon’s stringent historic landmark status.
Know Before You Go
Arrange a Pentagon tour through your congressional office.